"Sucked Sweet, Bonfire, Holiday" by Barbara J. Orton

for Bobbi

I will never be your husband.
I will never be your wife.
I will never step across the threshold
into the room that smells of you both.

I will never be your favorite shirt,
the meal you eat without thinking.
I will never wake you Christmas morning,
never come home late and find you sleeping.

Though your heart falls open
like a thumbed book in my hands,
though I can make you weep without trying,
though you love me, you will never love me

from day to day. I will always be
your sucked sweet, your bonfire, your holiday,
the soft cloth you press against your wound,
the joke you tell when no one is around.

I’ve met your wife. We chatted in your kitchen.
She kept offering me tea.
She knows who she is. She knows what I am.
Now and then she asks if I’m OK. 

You told me stories in the hospital
when I was too sick to sleep.
You try so hard to be there for us both. 
But you have one body,

asleep now in the quiet house:
eyelashes shadowing your cheek,
your back curved like a crescent moon,
your belly pressed against her back.

I try so hard to want what I have,
not ache for the black space around it.
But this longing tips and spills me
like warm oil at your feet.

If I had something real and whole
to offer you, I would.
My heart cracks like glass:
a bad gift, all edges. A fistful of blood.

Someday I’ll stop wanting you.
Or someday you’ll die.
Or I will. One way or another
this hurt will subside.

Until then, this is what I choose to be:
the soft cloth you press against your wound,
the joke you tell when no one is around,
your sucked sweet, bonfire, holiday.


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Barbara J. Orton's poems appear in the following anthologies: Villanelles; Obsession: Sestinas for the Twenty-First Century; Under the Rock Umbrella; The New Young American Poets; In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, vol. 7; and New Voices: University and College Poetry Prizes, 1989-1998. Her work has also been published in journals including Ploughshares, The Yale Review, Pleiades, and Verse. She lives in Boston, where she works as a writing tutor and freelance editor. 

Posted on January 7, 2018 .